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Councilmembers unimpressed by Hawaiʻi Island plan to address homelessness

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The County of Hawaiʻi’s Office of Housing and Community Development presented a new plan to address homelessness last week.

The “Strategic Roadmap for Homelessness and Housing” incorporates existing information, analyzed homeless counts, housing inventory, and other county community plans.

In March, the county established a new fund to support county-run housing and homeless programs for five years, totaling around $9 million per year. The plan recommends investing this money in housing and support operations.

“This particular county funding, approximately $9 million per year, allows for some substantial investment in those programs, moving beyond bandaid solutions or short-term fixes to something that is much more sustainable, and scalable,” OrgCode CEO Iain De Jong told councilmembers at a Government Operations, Relations, and Economic Development Committee meeting on Sept. 20.

De Jong said that the plan recommends “thematic investment” to improve housing development and support operations. He said the plan can help the Office of Housing and Community Development better structure requests for proposals.

“This should mean that rubber hits the road sooner rather than later in terms of implementation and knowing that implementation is aligned to the priorities that were established by the community,” De Jong said.

But councilmembers weren’t impressed by the plan, with some concerns on the “roadmap” doesn’t address legislative needs or concrete solutions.

Kona Councilmember Rebecca Villegas said what’s outlined in the plan is already known.

“It's kind of like ‘yeah, duh’ we need mental health services, we need services for families, we need an ʻohana zone, we need a parking lot for people who can safely stay in a place, we need Kukui Ola built,” Villegas said. “In general, we need more housing that is more affordable here.”

South Hilo Councilmember Sue Lee Loy expressed her worry that the plan isn’t going to work fast enough.

“This is something that's going to be realized five years from now and this funding will have sunset, and we will not have made gains in the area of reducing homelessness,” Lee Loy said.

According to the latest Point-In-Time homeless count done at the start of this calendar year, Hawaiʻi Island saw more than 800 people without homes.

Housing administrator Susan Kunz says there’s an important distinction between managing homelessness and ending it.

“I think both are critical in our path forward, and both are recognized in this plan, we have some initiatives that are going to be critical for us to help us manage homeless while we're trying to put in place the longer higher cost items of trying to end homeless,” Kunz said.

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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